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Part 2: In-depth interview with new U.S. U19 coach Brad Friedel

Written by Will Parchman

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After beginning our serialized chat with Brad Friedel on Wednesday, we continue with a new raft of topics today. From performance analysis to coaching to grassroots soccer, we’re navigating the waters again today.

Since Friedel spoke at considerable length, I’ve broken this into three parts to give each its due, which we’ll run in three installments over the next three days. What follows is the second part. Here’s the first.

You called a Brazil-U.S. U23 game last year and noted how pinned back the U.S. looked. Is playing more proactive soccer a push of yours, and how do you implement that?

“I think part of that (the U23 MNT loss against Brazil in November 2015) could have been some fitness issues, could have been how Brazil imposed themselves on the game early. But yes, that’s something – and I’m sure that’s something Andi was trying to address as well. But yeah, it’s very important to start games in the right mentality, very important psychologically to get on top of your opponent, to let them know you’re going to try to attack their goal. If they don’t think you’re going to attack their goal, then you do get pinned back.

“That has nothing to do with a formation or anything like that, it’s more of a mindset. And listen, sometimes it’s easier said than done, and you can work on it, and you can go and play Germany, and the Germans are very good, and you might have a similar system and they might be better at implementing it. This is my first group, my first camp, and I will instill my philosophies on them, and hopefully we’ll see it evolve over the year. And when they’re out of my age group, hopefully there’s four, five, six players that can move onto the next level.”

Are we on the trajectory you think we should be as a soccer nation?

“Infrastructure-wise, we’re light years ahead. There’s 110 scouts now. I don’t think we had five (when I started); I don’t think there were true scouting departments then. We have a system in place, when I took the job with the click of a button I could find all the players in my pool. And I could very quickly find if there were any outside of it. Infrastructurally way up there.

“As far as the production of players, MLS started off, and it’s growing, getting to the point where we can start bringing American players and foreign players more in their peak years. And when the players come over, it’s up to them to mentally keep the high standards up. It’s up to the MLS clubs to keep pushing the bar with those players and not letting them take liberties, so to speak. That’s an important step. Not all (MLS) clubs do that, but not all clubs do that in the world either. But that’s not U.S. Soccer’s job, that’s MLS’s job. U.S. Soccer can employ people to help with the process.

“If you’re wrapping MLS and U.S. Soccer in one – and I know U.S. Soccer played a big hand in getting MLS up and running – but we’ve got some really nice stadiums and training grounds. The Development Academy is now going down to the U12s, women (development league) are going to start. Everything’s better. I think we really have to get going on the coaching elements. I think we really have to get going on the grassroots elements. But I think all of those steps are being taken right now.

“I’m afraid in a country as big as ours, it’s not a light switch. It just doesn’t turn on and turn off. It will be generations. There are also generation gaps at times. Look at Manchester United. It’s not always you’ll get a Scholes, a Beckham, a Neville, a Neville, a Giggs, Nicky Butt. It’s not like you’re going to get eight to nine world class players out of an age group. There is no science behind that. It just happens from time to time.”

What do you think of the current crop of keepers coming through?

“We’ve got Tim (Howard) and Brad (Guzan) engulfed in a competition, and engulfed in competitions at their clubs as well. Bill Hamid, it’s a shame, read he’s got an injury because he was getting called in. I thought he had a very good season at D.C. United. Luis Robles warranted his call-up. I thought he was very good, especially in the second half of the season in MLS. Nick Rimando, if you had a problem, very cool head and composed. Two goalkeepers, one especially, doing well in Europe is Ethan Horvath in Molde, getting a lot of playing time. Zack Steffen is at Friberg, played at the U20 World Cup, very athletic goalkeeper, has a very good future ahead of him.

“Underneath that, I don’t think my squad’s been published yet, so I can’t tell you who I’m bringing. I’ve picked it, but we’ve got three goalkeepers coming into this group that I’ll want to give a chance and see all three of them. The goalkeeping department is generally one of the least of U.S. Soccer’s worries. Not saying we don’t have to stay on top of it, but I’m happy with the three goalkeepers – and actually there was a fourth, I just can’t bring four in – there’s four I quite like in my age group.”

How is your broadcast career going to change, if at all?

“It won’t. I’m going to stay with Fox. I think taking the 19 role when I have to go away, then it is what it is. But nothing will change on that. I like the fact that I am doing the coaching, because it does help with your analysis of it. I’m not personal. I say what I see, and I try to analyze the game. People can agree or disagree with it. That’s what my whole life’s been about as a professional player.

“It doesn’t change a thing. When you go and watch a game, and you see it unfold, a mistake’s a mistake. If it’s a great play it’s a great play. I don’t think I’ve ever said anything personal toward anyone, even when pointing out an error. And God knows people pointed out many of my errors, so I’m entitled every once in a while.”

How does the U.S. grow soccer at the grassroots level for the next generation?

“You know what affects the next generation the most, especially when you get into younger players? The relationship you can have with them. When you stand up in front of your group, you’re a leader straightaway. Like it, love it, loathe it, it doesn’t matter. You’re a leader. You have the opportunity with everything you say and do to have a little bit of an impact on each of the players’ lives.

“And I mean that genuinely. Not just on a training session level. Their lives. They remember strange little things. Five years later people come back and say, ‘I remember when you said that,’ and you’re like, ‘Oh.’ All of the training sessions and all the groups and clinics, with the younger kids especially, it has to be enjoyable. It has to be fun. I think a lot of people, a lot of coaches even at the senior level – and I know the pressure gets on sometimes – but it’s a ball, there’s two goals, and it’s a game. I know there’s a lot at stake in a lot of games, and there’s pressure situations. But when you go to grassroots level, if the kids aren’t having fun, what’s the point? I always tell people to make sure that sticks with people.

“I would go and watch games all the time and you see the parents or the coaches screaming at a referee over a throw-in decision. And they’re like, Under-9s playing. The throw-in is irrelevant over the course of the game. Is it just to let off some steam? If that was my dad, as a kid I’d have been embarrassed. The psychological effects that that has, it’s enormous. It should be fun.”

As coaches, what do you think the benefit is of having American coaches in the game, teaching American kids?

“Just because we’ve played and had careers, it doesn’t mean you can make a good coach. At all. The best piece of advice I got when I started my coaching endeavors a few years ago was that, the guy who was tutoring me said that if you’re willing to take your ego helmet off and put it to the side and start from ground zero, I know you have a lot of knowledge in your head, and I’ll be willing to teach you and organize it. It was the best piece of advice you could get.

“With that said, if you do have a lot of playing experiences, and you’re willing to learn the ropes of coaching, then in certain instances, especially when you get up to the professional levels, then it can help on the man managing side of things. So it can be an advantage. I know on the last trip Tab (Ramos) brought in Marcelo Balboa and Cobi Jones, who are both getting more serious into their coaching, and it worked out really well. Those are two ex-players. He’s not calling them in because they’re friends. He’s calling them in because he knows they’ll do the work.

“Tab called me in because he’d heard of the work I’d been doing at Tottenham and asked if I wanted to come and join him. Yes, we were friends as players, but it’s good the ex-players get involved. I’m bringing in an ex-player (Mike Lapper) who was a very good player as one of my staff. And I hope he takes his experiences, because he’s coached now at MLS level, at college level, at club level, played in a World Cup. So he’s been through the whole ringer. He’s played in Europe.

“I know he can coach, but off the field in one-v-one meetings and that, (he can say) ‘Hey, when I played against this player, it was daunting at first, but you know what, you’re good enough.’ Little confidence things like that. That’s where playing can help. But it definitely doesn’t automatically mean (you’re a good coach). I’ve seen a lot of great, great players not be great, great coaches.”

Where do you stand as a coach on the use of performance analysis?

“I like it. I need it. I won’t necessarily throw it in front of the players all the time. I’ve had some coaches that did and some coaches that didn’t. I think it can work both ways depending on how you use the data, but I think it’s important to have the data as a coach. There are definitely certain correlations with certain types of outputs that will correlate with injuries. And I think it’s really important, especially when you get into international soccer, these events where you have games every three or four days and you only have 23 players to choose from, you can’t afford to have three, four, five injuries.

“I like it. I understand both sides of it, and I’ve had many conversations with people who don’t like it and think they can do it all by their eye. I will like to use it and do both; have the information and use what I see. I think that’s the best way for me.”

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